Triple Crown Winners: Power Ranking Horse Racing's Elite

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2013

Triple Crown Winners: Power Ranking Horse Racing's Elite

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    Horse racing may no longer have the command over the sporting world that it did in previous generations, but the allure of the Triple Crown keeps sports fans coming back to the sport.

    There is a magic that goes with the sport's three jewels. Even casual racing fans want nothing more than to see a horse command victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

    The Triple Crown has been won just 11 times in horse racing history, and no horse has pulled off the feat since Affirmed did it in 1978.

    Training and riding methods have improved with each generation, and the tendency to rank the modern horses higher than the older ones is logical. However, the great horses of the past should not be ignored.

    Here's our ranking of the 11 Triple Crown winners.

    Additional historical perspective is provided by Washington Post horse racing columnist Andrew Beyer.

11. Omaha (1935)

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    Omaha is most often considered the weakest of the Triple Crown winners. He beat a very ordinary crop of three-year-olds, and that tends to lower his status among the winners of horse racing's most prestigious titles.

    Omaha won nine races in his career and earned more than $154,000. After his triumph in 1935, he went across the Atlantic and performed successfully against the top European horses.

10. Sir Barton (1919)

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    Sir Barton was the first Triple Crown winner, but nobody recognized it at the time.

    The three classic horse races were not recognized as the true test of all three-year-old thoroughbreds until 1930, when Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton used the term in one of his columns.

    After the use of Triple Crown became accepted shortly thereafter, the title was applied to Sir Barton retroactively years later.

    Sir Barton won all three Triple Crown races easily. He took the Derby by five lengths, the Preakness by four lengths and the Belmont Stakes by five lengths.

    Sir Barton won 14 races in his career, and his greatest achievement may have been beating the legendary Exterminator as a four-year-old.

9. Gallant Fox (1930)

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    Gallant Fox won the Triple Crown in workmanlike fashion, and those three races were the highlights of his three-year-old racing year, when he won nine of 10 races entered.

    Gallant Fox won 11 times in his career, finished second three times and also had two third-place finishes. He earned more than $328,000 in his career.

    However, he is probably best known for his defeat in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga when he was defeated by 100-to-1 long shot Jim Dandy. That race is still regarded as the greatest upset in horse racing history.

8. Assault (1946)

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    Assault was a great champion who went to the post 42 times and had 18 victories in his career.

    He would probably rank much higher if his times in the Triple Crown races weren't so slow compared to the other champions—his Belmont Stakes time was a sluggish 2:30.80.

    After winning that 1.5-mile race, he lost six of his next seven races.

    However, Assault recovered the following year. He won consistently and was voted the nation's top older horse.

7. Seattle Slew (1977)

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    Seattle Slew was truly a great horse, but he may have been better as a four-year-old than he was when he swept the Triple Crown as a three-year-old.

    Slew is downgraded in our rankings of the Triple Crown winners, because the competition he faced was ordinary and his times were unimpressive.

    Slew's record was one of the most incredible of all time, as he won 14 times in his 17 outings. He had more than $1.2 million in earnings until he retired.

6. Whirlaway (1941)

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    Simply one of the greatest race horses of all time. Whirlaway won the Kentucky Derby by a record eight lengths, and he won the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes by sizable margins as well.

    Whirlaway continued to race well after his Triple Crown year. He went to the post 60 times, and he won 32 races. He earned more than $561,000 throughout his career.

5. Count Fleet (1943)

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    Count Fleet was nearly as impressive as the great Secretariat would be 30 years later.

    The Count had tremendous speed, and Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer claimed, "the few handicappers of that era considered him to be the fastest horse they had ever seen."

    Count Fleet dominated his Triple Crown races. He won the Derby by three lengths, he took the Preakness by eight lengths and then dominated the Belmont Stakes by a memorable 25 lengths.

    Count Fleet won 16 of the 21 races he entered, and he earned more than $250,000.

4. Affirmed (1978)

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    Affirmed won the Triple Crown by beating a sensational rival in Alydar in three brilliant races.

    Affirmed won the Kentucky Derby by 1.5 lengths, but his margin in the Preakness was just a neck. The Belmont Stakes was the most scintillating race of all. It seemed that Affirmed was in a match race with Alydar as they headed down the long Belmont Park stretch.

    With jockey Steve Cauthen guiding him, Affirmed stuck a nose in front and ended up winning by a narrow head.

    After his Triple Crown year, Affirmed continued to dominate. He won 22 races in his career and had nearly $2.4 million in earnings.

3. War Admiral (1937)

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    War Admiral is best known as playing the role of Goliath in his famous match race with Seabiscuit, who took on the role of the smaller and victorious David.

    However, War Admiral deserves to be remembered for what he did in his three Triple Crown races. He won all three of them by going wire to wire, and he also recorded very impressive times in the process.

    War Admiral liked to run to the lead, and once he got there, he was unbeatable for the large majority of his career.

    War Admiral won 21 of 26 races in his career, and his earnings reached nearly $275,000.

2. Citation (1948)

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    Citation had perhaps the most dominating three-year-old season in the history of horse racing.

    He won the Kentucky Derby by 3.5 lengths, the Preakness by 5.5 lengths and then rolled to an eight-length win in the Belmont.

    Citation reeled off a 16-race winning streak, and he could run at distances from six furlongs (three-fourths mile) to two miles. He won 32 races in his career, but he was not as dominant as an older horse as he was as a three-year-old.

1. Secretariat (1973)

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    Secretariat is widely regarded as the greatest thoroughbred of all time.

    There had been no Triple Crown winners in 25 years when he came along, and Secretariat was considered average at the start of the Triple Crown racing season. He had a rival in Sham that many regarded as his equal.

    However, Secretariat simply dominated the Triple Crown races. He won the Kentucky Derby by 2.5 lengths and was victorious by the same amount in the Preakness. However, it was in the Belmont Stakes where Secretariat put on the greatest show in the history of the sport.

    He simply blew away the field at the Belmont, winning the 1.5-mile event by 31 lengths. No horse has ever moved faster than Secretariat did on that day.

    The Belmont Park crowd exploded with joy as Secretariat went under the wire, because the people knew they had seen a performance that would never be bettered.

    He won 16 of 21 races in his career and was prolific as a stud.

    "Big Red" was one of the most beloved athletes—equine or human—in the history of U.S. sports.